Lilacs for Wisconsin Gardeners

Lilacs for Wisconsin Gardeners

Part of Ep. 402 Planting Beauty for Your Yard and Garden

Narrow down the numerous choices of lilacs and choose the right one for your garden.  Master Gardener Pat Connors offers tips to help you decide what will work best in your yard.

Premiere date: May 31, 1996

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Lilacs are generally a single season plant. Summer, fall and winter-- they don't generate excitement. But in the spring, when they're blooming, they are glorious. I'm with master gardener, Pat Connors. Pat has worked extensively with the lilac collection at the UW-Madison Arboretum. There are hundreds of varieties. How do I begin to narrow down the one that's going to work in my yard?

Pat:
Well, you can look at site selection, to begin with. Lilacs like well-drained soil. They like full sun light. And they like a neutral ph.

Shelley:
So, what we've got in Wisconsin!

Pat:
Yes, that's right.

Shelley:
They're pretty happy throughout most of the state?

Pat:
Yes, they are. Another obvious selection criteria is color. This is a purple; it's called pocahontas. It's an early lilac. You can see that some of the flower characteristics are that it has a rather dense panicle and single florets. The panicle is the bunch of little florets that you're looking at, here.

Shelley:
This whole thing, then, is the panicle? What about something like size?

Pat:
I wouldn't want a real large one in front of a very small house. Size is a very important thing to look at. This is a medium-sized lilac, it's about 12 to 15 feet tall. So, it would work well in a medium-sized yard. Now, there are some very small ones there are some that are much larger and you should know this about a plant before you choose it.

Shelley:
Know the size. In a medium, can I pick other colors?

Pat:
Yes, you can. There's another one, over here, that I can show you-- is also medium size. This is called nokomis. It's another early bloomer.

Shelley:
How old do lilacs get in Wisconsin?

Pat:
They can get very old. This one was planted in 1951, so it's over 40 years old.

Shelley:
So, they definitely are happy in our state.

Pat:
Yes, they are.

Shelley:
How long will it take this to bloom? When will I get my reward?
Pat:
You should be able to see flowers in a couple of years.

Shelley:
That's pretty quick.

Pat:
They won't reach mature size that early, but you'll see the flowers pretty early. This one has a lighter color, almost a pinkish sort of color. This one is technically called "lilac." It's a lilac color, which is a very light purplish tint. It doesn't have the blue or the pink tint that some do. You can see it has a more open panicle.

Shelley:
There's a little more space around each of the florets. It almost looks lacey.

Pat:
Yes, it does. And it's also an early bloomer. These are both early blooming lilacs.

Shelley:
You mentioned that white is an important color in the garden.

Pat:
Yes, it is. White's very important; it carries, visually, a long distance.

Shelley:
Can we look at a white lilac?

Pat:
Let's do that. Well, Shelley, you can see why I said that white makes a considerable statement especially from a distance.

Shelley:
This plant isn't fully open yet and you can still see it from quite a ways, it will get whiter as it opens more?

Pat:
It will be even whiter and fuller. The other thing I wanted you to look at for this plant was the size. This is about six feet tall and it's the mature size.

Shelley:
Much smaller than some of the other ones we looked at.

Pat:
It's much easier to use in a home garden. This is a very nice plant. It's called mount baker. It's a single, white, very early lilac and it has a wonderful fragrance.

Shelley:
It's beautiful. It smells like it's made entirely out of perfume. It's just heavenly.

Pat:
Yes, it really does smell good. There's one other plant I'd like to show you. It causes some people some problems with size so I think it's a good one to look at.

Shelley:
Okay. Wow, this is much larger than anything else we've looked at, yet!

Pat:
This is assessippi. It's one of the largest plants we have here. In spite of its size which creates some real problems for some people it's a beautiful plant.

Shelley:
I wouldn't want to plant it by my front door!

Pat:
I'm afraid not. It would give you trouble.

Shelley:
Like getting in and out the door! It's what, 18 feet tall?

Pat:
I think so, yes.

Shelley:
It has some really pretty color to it.

Pat:
Yes, it's a wonderful plant. It's a very early bloomer. It has great color-- probably one of the best perfumes we have here in the arboretum.

Shelley:
Maybe one that we should enjoy from a second story window!

Pat:
Exactly.

Shelley:
Are there any general tips on care that we should know with all the lilacs we've looked at?

Pat:
There are just a few things to remember. You should plant them early in the spring or in the fall, but not in the summer. You should help them to avoid powdery mildew by giving them good air circulation.

Shelley:
That can be a problem.

Pat:
It can, yes. You can do this by renewal pruning. What this means, is taking the oldest stalks and cutting them off right at ground level.

Shelley:
Okay, and we do that every couple of years?

Pat:
Yes, that's often enough.

Shelley:
Thank you, Pat. Remember, of course, the best time of year to do renewal pruning: late winter, early spring.

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